Imperial College London

Climate science to support resilience


Academy of Medicine at Georgia Tech

How climate science can better inform adaptation decisions was the focus of a recent workshop held by the Grantham Institute and Georgia Tech.

The workshop on “Climate Science Needed to Support Robust Adaptation Decisions”, organised in partnership with the Georgia Institute of Technology was held in Atlanta, U.S.A., on 6-7 February 2014.

Participants from business, government, and the climate and decision science communities met to explore diverse ways in which climate science can usefully inform adaptation decisions. At present, many see predictions from climate models as the primary scientific input into such choices.  But this valuable approach may be only one of several useful contributions that are emerging from collaboration among decision makers and scientists.

At the workshop, speakers from organisations as different as Coca Cola, the UK Department for International Development, the World Bank, the United Nations, Swiss Re, the US National Institutes of Health, Acclimatise and International Alert explained to members of the research community the complex challenges they face when trying to manage risks and responding to new opportunities. They also provided insight into how researchers could support decision making, highlighting the importance of decision context, of taking a more holistic view of risks and of the varied timescales over which different actions are needed. 

The physical scientists present emphasised the significant progress that has been made in recent decades in developing our understanding of, and modelling, the climate system, but noted that even the most advanced climate models are not yet able to provide with sufficient confidence detailed information on patterns of regional climate variability and change in the next few decades. Climate models of different levels of complexity nevertheless are very useful tools for assessing the scale and pace of climate change over the rest of this century. Longer-term, with further advances in model resolution and computational power, such models should provide useful insight into the physical processes shaping changes in regional climates.

Against this background, the Workshop was an important opportunity to illustrate and discuss the diversity of methods already available that could supplement the insights gleaned from climate models and help inform robust decision making in the face of climate variability and change, whether by business, government or international organisations. These additional tools included, but were not limited to, formal methods of robust decision making, scenarios that capture a wider range of drivers beyond just greenhouse gas emissions, more effective exploitation of historical empirical data about climate variability globally and in specific regions, and the smarter use of climate models of all types to identify what can be said robustly on shorter (decadal) timescales and what cannot.

Commenting on the workshop, Dr Yvan Biot, Senior Scientist at the UK Department for International Development, said that, “the future doesn’t just happen - it is for us to create. The techniques I have learnt in this Workshop will help us select those activities that are most likely to create a better and more secure future for poor people in developing countries.”

The provision of these “climate services” to inform the way that decision makers think about risk is likely to become increasingly important in coming decades.  Discussion at the Workshop touched on the ethical dimensions and high professional standards required for the success of this emerging profession. The Workshop concluded that consideration should be given to developing a code of professional standards for practitioners, notably in terms of transparency, objectivity and full disclosure of data, assumptions and methods as well as an obligation to make available forecasts and projections on timescales that allowed those affected by risks to take action in time to mitigate their potential impact, which does not always happen at present.

The Workshop provided a unique and supportive environment for productive conversations across business, government, international organisations and academia that should help to inform strategies for research into robust decision making on regional and decadal time scales.  The organisers are confident that it will lead to new collaborations between participants. The Workshop has already helped to identify a number of future research priorities and strategies, which participants aim to write up and publish in the form of a peer-reviewed article in the next few months.

The Workshop was organised by Simon Buckle (co chair, Grantham Institute, Imperial College London) and Judith Curry (co chair, Georgia Institute of Technology and Climate Forecast Applications Network) supported by Robert Lempert (Rand Corporation), Roger Pulwarty (Earth Systems Research Laboratory, NOAA) and Rob Wilby (Loughborough University, UK).

The Workshop organisers gratefully acknowledge financial support from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the British Consulate General-Atlanta, the Georgia Institute of Technology, the Climate Forecast Applications Network, the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the US NOAA. A full list of participants and their presentations can be found at .


Emma Critchley

Emma Critchley
The Grantham Institute for Climate Change

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